Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West
When the news about a collaborative album from Jay-Z and Kanye West, aka The Throne, began to surface, mixed predictions about the quality of the album were inevitable. The album, titled “Watch the Throne” consists of two very different parts of the best, most popular and successful rappers in the game right now. Despite the close, big brother, little brother relationship between Jay-Z and Kanye and the fact that Kanye used to produce music for Jay-Z, their styles are not, apparently, harmonic.
Kanye’s music has a more musical and enriched feeling to it. He has a good voice in addition to his rapping skills, which he often auto-tunes for an enhanced effect. He is also known for featuring many artists on a single track. In opposition, Jay-Z’s music is harsher and more ghetto. He tends to stick to straight rapping and lets other people sing his hooks and choruses for him. Nevertheless, the brilliance of these two rappers alone had the potential to create a legendary album.
Watch The Throne is hardly an epic album musically, but it has many entertaining, controversial and classic elements that make it a worthwhile listen. Surprisingly, the fluidity between Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s rapping is perfect. One disconcerting prediction was the balance of power between them, but they seemed to have defied that. The movement back and forth between their lines is flawless, as if they are the two best players on a basketball team that have learned to play in tandem with each other instead of competing against one another to prove their greatness.
This balance of power is best exemplified in “Ni**as in Paris,” the third track on the album. Jay-Z begins the first stanza of the song with his fast-spitting raps and slows down when he gets to the chorus so he can pass the ball to Kanye, who takes over the chorus leading into his stanza. They end the song going line for line with each other, each giving the other his moment to shine before they end the song together. The beauty of this harmony is emphasized by a fast, bass-thumping beat that sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack for Coach Carter.
In order to achieve that kind of equality between these two, Jay-Z and Kanye must have written the songs together. However, some of their lyrical choices are questionable. The theme of this album is the privileges that come with being kings, which translates into a lot of brand name dropping. What feels like the most overused reference, the luxury car Maybach, is mentioned in three separate songs, and that’s two too many. This aspect is not necessarily enjoyable for fans who still reminisce about the days when Kanye and Jay-Z rapped about being poor. Then again, in how many different beat variations can they tell the same story about what life used to be like?
There may have been a better pre-conceived notion about the album if one of the first pre-released singles wasn’t “Otis” which is completely dedicated to rapping about their wealth. Otis Redding’s background vocals momentarily distract from the topic, and without him the song would be utterly boring.
However, ‘Ye and Jay redeem themselves with the nostalgia factor in their raps about black power and introspection. Their moments of truth are the real gems of the album. Instead of referring to their personal stories, they belittle their own riches by focusing on the tribulations and accomplishments of the African American race as a whole in songs like “Murder to Excellence” and “Made in America.” Jay-Z and Kanye provide insight into their minds in “New Day,” which is a song dedicated to their unborn sons.
The caliber of this album is heavily weighted on the mixing of beats, additional vocals and samples from other songs, because the raps alone can only hold your attention for so long. The very first song on the album, “No Church in the Wild” has the most stellar combination of these elements. The drumming intrigues you, Frank Oceans’ crooning reels you in and Jay-Z and Kanye smack you with a startling lyrical reality that stays true to their individual styles. In between Jay-Z and Kanye’s stanzas, the voice of The Dream sort of pats you on the shoulder and keeps you from running away from this slightly horrific lyrical depiction. Jay-Z annihilates the purity of religion, and Kanye describes the scenes of the wild. The power of their collaboration on this track is similar to “Never Let Me Down” on Kanye’s, The College Dropout. It will never be a hit because it’s too good to be ruined by the radio.
Like their most recent albums, Watch The Throne will fit into the same category of music as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye) and The Blueprint 3 (Jay-Z). Even though it contains a handful of really great songs, there is nothing particularly revolutionary about it. Once you’ve heard the album a couple times, a long hiatus will be needed before playing it again.
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